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Devils Fall To Irish In 2015 ACC Tournament Semifinals

A dreadful first half was too much to overcome in the end.

The Duke captains, Quinn Cook and Amile Jefferson, in a pause during the Notre Dame game in the 2015 ACC Tournament.
The Duke captains, Quinn Cook and Amile Jefferson, in a pause during the Notre Dame game in the 2015 ACC Tournament.
Evan Pike-USA TODAY Sports

GREENSBORO - The first Friday night ACC Tournament semifinal round in 34 years turned into a Friday nightmare for the Duke Blue Devils.

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Not only did Mike Krzyzewski's second-seeded team lose to third-seeded Notre Dame, 74-64, but fifth-seeded North Carolina upset top seeded Virginia in the first game of the night.

The Blue Devils will have to head home and watch on TV as their bitter rival - a team Duke beat twice this season - will meet Notre Dame in the 2015 championship game.

Former Krzyzewski assistant Mike Brey, who has been chasing a title for 15 years in South Bend, is thrilled that his team is in the finals with a chance to win the ACC championship in his second year in the league.

"There would be no greater achievement in the history of our program," Brey told reporters. "It's fitting that to get it, we have got to go through Duke and Carolina on their home turf."

Meanwhile, Duke (29-4) continues to chase another championship banner. The Devils don't have a significant title since the 2011 team beat UNC in the ACC championship game. They'll have two more chances this season - to win a regional championship in the NCAA Tournament and beyond that, to win a national championship.

It's amazing that barely 24 hours after playing their best half of the season, Duke should come out and play their worst half of the season against the Irish. Krzyzewski was so disgusted by what he saw in the opening minutes that he called a timeout just 1:42 into the game.

"I just don't know who we were coaching tonight," Krzyzewski said. "We weren't talking. We weren't doing anything. It was like an out-of-body experience."

The Duke coach suggested that his young team lost a grip on what made it so good.

"We've won a lot in a row - I think we had won 12 in a row and playing light's out basketball," he said. "I don't know if from last night to tonight, we just took that for granted … not winning, but the necessary components to do that."

Notre Dame came out and punched Duke in the mouth, just as the Devils did to N.C. State Thursday night. And Duke responded to the punch exactly as the Wolfpack did - by losing its composure.

Duke led 2-0 and trailed just 6-5 when the Irish went on a 12-0 run to seize control of the game. That's when Brey knew that his team was in the driver's seat.

"If you look at the games in the tournament, the teams getting off to great starts are winning," he said. "That other team is playing catchup the whole game and can't quite get over the hump."

That describes Duke, which suddenly woke up with about 16 minutes to play. Down 18 points, the Blue Devils made a furious run - keyed by Jahlil Okafor inside (28 points) and by Justise Winslow, who was a demon on the boards, in transition and on defense.

But even as Duke closed to four points after a Tyus Jones 3-pointer, Brey helped his team keep its composure by reminding him of Thursday's game, when Notre Dame blew a 17-point halftime lead against Miami, but rallied to win.

"I actually said during one of the timeouts, 'It's just like last night. They're not going to win. Let them have fun closing the gap, but they are not going to win this game.'"

Although Brey turned out to be right, there was a moment late when it looked like Duke might come all the way back. The Devils were down 68-64 when Okafor - who had been unstoppable the entire second half - took the ball to the basket. Before he could get there, he was fouled by Bonzie Colson - intentionally.

"I thought we strategically fouled there under two minutes," Brey admitted.

It was a strategy born of Okafor's struggles at the foul line. A 52.4 percent free throw shooter on the season, the big freshman had missed four of six at that point … and he proceeded to miss both shots with 1:48 left. That was pretty much it. Quinn Cook, who had a miserable night (7 points on 2-of-12 shooting) missed an open 3 and committed a turnover (when he slipped on the court).

Notre Dame put the game away with some solid work at the foul line, closing out the 74-64 win.

Despite the terrible start and the disappointing loss, Krzyzewski was not ready to give up on his team.

"The last 16 minutes, we played our butts off," he said. "I have no fault with the last 16 minutes. If we play like that, we'll be alright."

And the first 24 minutes?

"Hopefully, we're still at a point in time where we can learn from this," he said.

Okafor was asked what he and his teammates learned from this loss?

"Just we started off poorly," he said. "Coach tried to warn us before the game that this is a game where we might get off to a slow start. We just have to find a way to get each other going before the game."

Krzyzewski pointed out that this is the last chance for Duke to have "a learning experience." The next failure will be permanent for the 2015 Blue Devils.


Duke will still be a high seed in the NCAA Tournament when the field is announced Sunday night. The two leading bracketologists differed on Duke's fate in the moments after the Notre Dame loss. ESPN's Joe Lunardi posted that Duke remains a No. 1 seed. Jerry Palm of CBS Sports dropped Duke to a No. 2 seed, behind Villanova in the East.

Either way, Duke's path to the title is still likely to start in Charlotte next week.

Is there any reason to think Duke can bounce back from this disappointment and regain its mojo? There are examples of Blue Devil teams that have bombed in the ACC Tournament and recovered to do well in the NCAA Tournament. Just a few examples off the top of my head:

-- The 1990 Duke team was humbled by Georgia Tech in the ACC semifinals. Afterwards, senior guard Phil Henderson publically blasted his teammates as "a bunch of babies." Those "babies" won five NCAA Tournament games and made it to the national title game.

-- The 1991 Duke team did reach the ACC finals. But they were blown out by 22 points by a UNC team they had beaten twice during the regular season. They bounced back to win the national championship.

-- The 1994 Blue Devils took a heartbreaking loss to Virginia in the ACC semifinals. They recovered to win the South Regional and reach the national title game before losing a heartbreaker to Arkansas.

-- The 2013 team suffered a stunning loss to Maryland in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament. They came back and reached the Elite Eight before losing to eventual national champion Louisville.

Of course, there are plenty of examples of teams that bombed in the ACC Tournament and also bombed in the NCAA Tournament. So only time will tell what happens to this Duke team. Make a deep run in the NCAA playoffs and Friday night's disappointment will be forgotten. Bow out early, and the Notre Dame loss will be part of another bitter late-season collapse.


North Carolina helped continue one of the mainstays of the ACC Tournament. Either Duke or North Carolina has reached the finals in 53 of 62 ACC Tournaments.

In fact, both teams have reached the finals more times (11) than neither team has reached the finals (9). The last time neither Duke nor North Carolina played for the ACC championship was in 1996, when Tim Duncan and Wake Forest beat Stephon Marbury and Georgia Tech.

Together, the two rivals have won 36 of the first 61 titles … Duke 19 and UNC 17.